Arnold Press: Muscles Worked & Benefits

Arnold Press: Muscles Worked & Benefits

If you want to build muscle in your shoulders, you’ve come to the right place. Today, we’re talking about one of the best shoulder exercises there is: The Arnold Press.

The Arnold press is a great exercise that was named after and made popular by the most iconic bodybuilder ever. If you don’t already know who I'm referring to, it's Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Back in his bodybuilding days, Arnold was determined to be the best. He did what he needed to do in order to get the upper hand on his opponents. One way he did this was by inventing his own exercise.

It just so happened to become one of the most effective exercises to build and define the shoulders. We’re going to get into all of that in a little bit, but I’m sure some of you reading this are wondering what this exercise is.

Let’s dive in.

What is the Arnold Press?

The Arnold press is a mixture of a dumbbell shoulder press, a pec fly, and a reverse fly. It’s all done in one smooth motion, and you can definitely feel the burn if you do it right.

You see, with a standard shoulder press, your arms stay out to your sides the whole time. Your palms also face away from you as you press the dumbbells up. Then, you lower them down, still with your palms facing away from you, and repeat.

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The motion in a standard pec fly has your upper arms out to your sides to start each rep. You would then pull your arms in toward each other until your elbows are close to touching.

Your wrists will also turn in a little bit and face each other. In the Arnold press, your wrists turn a little more than that.

The motion for a reverse fly is the opposite. Your arms would start out in front of your chest, and you would pull your arms out to your sides, spreading them apart.

The Arnold press incorporates all of these motions into one exercise. This is how it targets all 3 heads of the deltoid as opposed to 1 or 2 of them.

The Arnold press works more muscles than just your deltoids though. Let’s cover the muscles worked in this exercise real quick. Then, we’ll get into the benefits, and how to perform the Arnold press properly.

Muscles Worked in the Arnold Press


As I already mentioned, the Arnold Press works all 3 heads of your deltoid. If you aren’t sure what your deltoid is, it’s the rounded muscle that lays over your shoulder.

The 3 heads all work in a different direction.

The anterior (front) head helps you lift your arms in front of you and overhead. The middle head helps you lift your arms out to your sides. The posterior (rear) head helps you pull your arms back behind you.

Aside from your deltoids, there are a few other muscles that get worked.


Your triceps are the muscle on the back of each arm that help you straighten your elbows. Without your triceps, you wouldn’t be able to press anything.

In an Arnold press, your triceps will help support and press the weight overhead. The stronger your triceps are, the heavier weight you’ll be able to use.

Pectoralis Major

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This is the large fan-shaped muscle that makes up your chest. This muscle helps to pull your arms inward toward your chest. It also helps your deltoids with pressing the weight overhead too.

Other pressing movements, like the bench press, will help strengthen this muscle. The stronger your pecs are, the more weight you can likely handle safely in an Arnold Press.


Your trapezius aka “traps” are a very large muscle on your upper back. It actually runs from your neck, over your shoulders, and even down to the mid back.

Your traps can do many things, like helping to shrug your shoulders. In the Arnold press, they actually help stabilize your shoulder blades as you control the weight up & down.

Stabilization is important in any pressing movement, and the traps play a big role here.

Now that you know the muscles involved in the Arnold press, let’s cover some of the benefits it provides.

Then I’ll go over how to perform this exercise safely and effectively.

Benefits of the Arnold Press

The Arnold press has plenty of benefits, no matter what your health or fitness goals may be.

The Arnold Press Can Help With Building Muscle

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If you want to build muscle, the Arnold press can certainly help you do that. To build muscle, you have to stress your muscles with moderately heavy to heavy loads for greater volume than your body is used to.

This exercise targets a lot of muscles in the upper body, and you can generally use a good amount of weight. So, as long as you are following a good set and rep scheme, you can build plenty of muscle with the Arnold press.

Plus, you’ll be building muscle in not only your shoulders, but your triceps and chest as well!

The Arnold Press Can Help With Losing Body Fat

When it comes to losing body fat, it’s all about burning more calories than you eat. As long as your diet is on point, the Arnold press can definitely help you burn more calories.

The more muscles an exercise works, the more calories you have the potential to burn. Remember … the Arnold press targets a lot of muscles, including your deltoids, chest, triceps, and traps.

Using that many muscles in one exercise is great for burning calories. For that reason, the Arnold press could help put your body in a calorie deficit to lose weight and body fat.

The Arnold Press Can Help Reinforce Muscle Coordination

There are a few phases to this exercise, and moving weight in multiple planes of motion is good for you. It’s good because at first, it’s difficult. Then, your body learns how to control the weight this way.

Being able to smoothly control the weight in more than one direction can be a great thing. This can help lower your risk of injury when handling heavier weights with your upper body.

But, now that we’ve got the benefits out of the way, let’s jump into how to do an Arnold press!

How To Do The Arnold Press

The Arnold press requires dumbbells, and in my opinion, a seated bench. You can do this exercise standing, but it’s easier to control without cheating when you’re seated.

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Make sure to choose a weight that is challenging, but also one that you can control safely.

Start the exercise seated on a bench that's set at a 90-degree angle, like a chair. You should begin with a dumbbell in each hand held in front of your shoulders. Your palms should be facing your body and your elbows pointed down toward the ground.

The first part of the motion is pulling your arms away from the midline of your body, and out to your sides. Your shoulders and elbows should be bent about 90 degrees, holding the weight in the air. Your hands will turn to face away from your body as you do this.

As your arms are moving out to your sides and your palms are now facing away from you, it’s time to begin the press. Engage your chest, shoulders, and triceps to press the weight over your head.

Squeeze your shoulders at the top of the movement, and then slowly lower your arms back down. As your hands get to the level of your ears, begin pulling your elbows in toward your chest.

At the same time, rotate your hands back to face your body as you return to the starting position.

While each portion of the movement is split up in my description, each piece should be connected into one fluid motion on the way up and down.

The result will be one heck of a shoulder exercise!

The Arnold Press is Just The Beginning

The Arnold press is a juggernaut of an upper body exercise. It’s no wonder Arnold himself invented it. Heck, it even helped him win 7 Mr. Olympia titles. If you didn’t know ... in bodybuilding, the Mr. Olympia title is the highest honor you can win.

This exercise can help you build muscle, lose body fat, and gain the look that you want. However, it’s important to note that as great as the Arnold press is … it’s only ONE exercise.

One exercise will not give you the body of your dreams, no matter what it is. You need a full workout program, and your diet is a huge factor too.

I’ve had times in my life when I've struggled to put on muscle even when following my workout routine. The problem was, I wasn’t eating enough of the right foods, and it took me a long time to figure that out.

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